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Suburban leaders oppose Stintz’s transit-tax proposal

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

TTC chair Karen Stintz's new plan to raise property taxes for public transit is getting a lukewarm reception in Toronto's suburbs, where at least three GTA leaders say they would oppose replicating the idea in their own backyards.

"We don't need to go and have a new tax on the property tax to fund transit," Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell said. "It should never come from the property-tax base."

The mayor of Oshawa and the chair of Durham Region agreed they don't support tapping property taxpayers further to expand public transit across the Greater Toronto Area. At the heart of their objections is the fact that homeowners in Toronto's bedroom communities already pay significantly higher property-tax rates than their counterparts in Toronto.

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Ms. Stintz and Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, vice-chair of the TTC, said in an interview this week that they planned to forward their proposal to other GTA leaders as part of a motion they'll bring to council next month – one of several involving their $30-billion, 30-year transit vision called OneCity and its novel approach to raising funds.

"This is something that the other regional municipalities could certainly do," Ms. Stintz said of the funding model.

"And we will ask them to consider this model," Mr. De Baeremaeker added.

Metrolinx, the province's transportation authority for the GTA, is expected to report next year on region-wide ideas to pay for transit.

The TTC's chair and vice-chair want provincial permission to capture about 40 per cent of the current-value assessment uplift. Normally, when Ontario properties are reassessed, the outcome of the process has to be revenue-neutral for municipalities.

Ms. Stintz and Mr. De Baeremaeker are seeking a change to that law so Toronto can impose the equivalent of a 1.9-per-cent per year property-tax increase over four years, levelling off in 2016 and continuing at that rate for 30 years.

For the average Toronto homeowner, OneCity would add $180 to the annual tax bill by the time the plan is fully phased in in 2016. All the money would go to transit.

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"The problem is the taxpayer only has so much," Oshawa Mayor John Henry said of the CVA uplift approach. "Here, for example, we pay a very high percentage of taxes."

Roger Anderson, the chair of Durham Region, echoed that.

"The property-tax level has reached a level where pretty soon people aren't going to have enough space to do anything, other than pay property taxes," he said.

Residential property-tax rates in the suburbs are indeed significantly higher than in Toronto, where the bills tend to be higher because Toronto homes are so much more expensive.

The owner of the average Toronto home, valued at $427,085, pays $3,386 annually in property taxes.

The bill for the same home would be $5,047 in Brampton, $4,111 in Mississauga, $5,787 in Pickering and $4,066 in Vaughan.

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"I don't rule out any idea that speaks to improving transit infrastructure in our region," Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua said by e-mail. "Ultimately, the taxpayer will decide. How much is the taxpayer willing to pay for transit?"

Mayors Hazel McCallion of Mississauga and Frank Scarpitti of Markham were not available for comment Thursday.

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Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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